COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — After a year off because of COVID-19, the Georgia Thespian Conference is back in Columbus.

And the three-day high school theater gathering — known as ThesCon — is back in full force.

The buses from across the state are lining up in downtown Columbus. And according to the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, the event brings a direct economic impact of nearly $1 million.

ThesCon is back in person for the first time since 2020. And longtime Columbus educator Dr. Paul Hampton, who is the organizer for the statewide event, welcomes it.

“We have over 4,600 attendees from across the state,” Hampton said. “We have guest artists from across the nation – from California to New York.”

And the students are pleased to be back in Columbus — and back in the show. Just ask Noah Caplan of Lakeview Academy, Gainesville.

“And I would argue it is definitely an amazing and more immersive experience to be here in person,” Caplan said. “While it was excellent and they did a phenomenal job online, being in the theater, seeing the live magic of the show and being up close with your workshop instructors really brings theater to life.”

Inaara Jadavji of Northview High School in Johns Creek agrees. And being in Columbus is the bonus.

“It is really nice for theater students like us to be on a college campus because it gives us exposure to Columbus because it has such a good theater program,” she said. “It gives us exposure to what we could be pursuing next year or in the years to come.”

And that’s what Columbus State University is banking on. Kristin Williams, CSU’s Director of Admissions, Recruitment, is working the event and looking to attract potential students.

“Because if we can bring in 4,000 kids to the Columbus community and really showcase Columbus as a destination, it really gets their excitement about Columbus State, the city of Columbus, and all of the things they can do as a student at Columbus State,” Williams said.

Dr. Larry Dooley, the chairperson of the CSU, Department of Theater, has worked all of the conferences in Columbus, dating back more than a decade.

“Normally, something like this would be at a large trade show, trade venue in a big city like Atlanta,” Dooley said. “But in that case, you wouldn’t have the theater space we have. You would be more likely to be on a platform in the corner of an event center. We have all these theaters – RiverCenter, Springer, two CSU spaces. It’s fantastic.”

The event wraps up Saturday afternoon.